THE LOWELL SUN
Marathon director and local teacher team up for second book
Dave McGillivray and Nancy Feehrer became a children’s book dream team last year with “Dream Big,” showing how McGillivray overcame his short stature to become the athlete he dreamed of being as a marathon runner.
Now, the Boston Marathon race director and Westford teacher have teamed up again for “Running Across America,” which they hope will continue inspiring children around the country to follow their dreams — and to understand that they might come true in ways they hadn’t imagined.
The book, due out Sept. 10 through Nomad Press and illustrated by Shululu (Hui Li), follow’s McGillivray’s 1978 journey as he ran from Medford, Oregon, to his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, and highlights some of his adventures along the way.
When McGillivray made the cross-country run 41 years ago, he bookended it with ceremonial runs at Seattle’s former Kingdome just ahead of a Mariners game against the visiting Red Sox, and at Fenway Park, just before the Red Sox were about to take on the Mariners.
As young boy, McGillivray dreamed of playing second base for the Red Sox, but his small size held him back from achieving in baseball.
“So I thought, if couldn’t play in Fenway, I could run in Fenway,” said McGillivray, of North Andover. “When I finished in Fenway in front of crowd of 32,000 people, I realized I had become the athlete I always wanted to be — I just took a different path.”
With Fenway being such a special place to him, McGillivray said it means a lot that he can hold his book launch party for “Running Across America” at the park on Monday, Aug. 26.
Feehrer and McGillivray first met in 2016, when McGillivray came to Abbot Elementary School, where Feehrer is a reading teacher, to share his story of failure, persistence and success in running with the young students. Seeing how engaged and inspired the children were by McGillivray, Feehrer asked him if he’d ever considered writing a children’s picture book. McGillivray had thought about it, but had never attempted it — until then.
“As soon as I met with her, I knew right away that this was meant to be, that she was the perfect co-author,” he said.
“Dave is such an inspiring person to be around, to work with,” Feehrer said. “You can’t really walk away not being inspired when you are with him, so that for me has been such a treat.”
“Dream Big” was released early last year, and the book was so successful Nomad Press invited them to create another.
“The reaction to that book opened my eyes like they’d never been opened before about the impact that not me, necessarily, but some of the experience I’ve been through could have on young children, who are maybe struggling with their own self-esteem and self-confidence, always wanting to make the team or be chosen,” McGillivray said.
He tells the tales of his experiences, and Feehrer takes notes and crafts them into stories designed to be appealing to children. As a teacher and mother of four, Feehrer is well-versed in what children find amusing and engaging.
She said adults are more interested in the grueling aspect of how McGillivray ran 40 to 50 miles a day for 80 days. For children, it means playing up the fun little details that pique their interest, she said.
“Yes, it was challenging,” Feehrer said. “However, it’s the other things — the rattlesnakes, the grasshopper infestation in Nebraska. He literally crunched on grasshoppers for five days straight.”
Some other appealing details included places in Colorado that had interesting names, such as Rabbit Ears Peak, Poodle Lake and a town named Dinosaur.
“Part of the beauty of being a teacher is, I got to read the manuscript versions to hundreds of kids, and so, along the way, they would say things like, ‘I didn’t understand that part,’ or they would laugh at certain parts,” Feehrer said.
She read the early versions of the story to Westford children at the Abbot and Crisafulli elementary schools, and to Beth Tobin’s class at Ditson Elementary School in Billerica. Feehrer used their reactions to inform what should stay and what needed more work.
One part of the story the kids found particularly hilarious was when McGillivray was so tired from running that he accidentally put toothpaste on his legs instead of lotion, Feehrer said. When the publisher initially cut this piece out for space reasons, she protested because the kids loved it so much. It was placed back in the story.
The students also got to see the early versions of the book illustrations, and some keen-eyed kids noticed some inconsistencies — like a T-shirt missing its red trim around the neck on one page — that were then corrected, she said.
“It’s an incredible gift to have them help with these books,” Feehrer said.
The ink is barely dry on the second book and McGillivray and Feehrer are already planning for a third, which is expected to highlight McGillivray’s 2018 completion of the World Marathon Challenge, in which he ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
A theme, that began with the first book and intend to continue, is the “Dream Big Challenge” at the back of the book.
“I always said, I don’t just want to do a book that kids read, say, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ and they put it down and that’s the end of the story,” McGillivray said. “This needs to be life-changing.”
Hundreds of children from around the country have already completed the challenge, which includes reading 26 books, running 26 miles (not all at once, and doing 26 random acts of kindness. Those who complete the challenge receive “Dream Big” medals made by the designer of the Boston Marathon medals.
Some who have completed it so far include Tobin’s class in Billerica, and about 150 students at Bluebonnet Elementary School in Keller, Texas.
McGillivray said he’s encouraged his call to action is being heeded, and he hopes even more kids will take on the challenge upon reading the new book.
All proceeds from the books will also continue to go to charity. With Dream Big, the proceeds go to Dracut’s Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation. With Running Across America, they will be split between the Big Heart Foundation and the Jimmy Fund, the recipient of McGillivray’s fundraising efforts for the 1978 run.
Admission to the Aug. 26 “Running Across America” launch party at Fenway Park is $25 per person and includes an autographed first edition of the book. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/running-across-america-book-launch-party-tickets-63397158608. Additional advance copies will also be available for $16.95 each at the event.
The book can also be preordered at https://www.amazon.com/Running-Across-America-Determination-Heading/dp/1619308754.